It’s been a tough few years for Don May, Jr. and Jerry Chandler of Synapse Films, as they have worked tirelessly on the much-needed 4K restoration of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. The proverbial light is officially at the end of that tumultuous tunnel, though, as the Suspiria Blu-ray is set to be released on December 19th, and the film enjoyed a wonderful resurgence over the last few months, thanks to various theatrical and festival screenings of their efforts (which you can read my thoughts on HERE).
Daily Dead recently caught up with Don May, Jr. about the long road that he and his partner have traversed together over the last three years while working on the Suspiria 4K transfer, and he chatted about all the hiccups along the way, working with the film’s cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, getting feedback from the Maestro himself, and more.
And be sure to pre-order your copy of Suspiria today if you haven’t already done so. For me, December 19th cannot get here soon enough.
Congrats on everything, Don. Seeing Suspiria at Flashback Weekend was an incredible experience and I’m so excited that you guys are this close to the finish line now.
Don May, Jr.: With Flashback, that was the first time we played it in the US, and honestly, it was the first time I had seen it with an audience. I was really super nervous. I was like, "Oh, no, this is a real theater, what's this gonna look like? What's this gonna sound like?" I was taken aback though, once I started watching it.
I had seen it in the screening room at Warner Brothers a few times, while we were prepping the DCP, but it's in a little 50-seat theater on the lot, and there are lights on behind you and everything, so people can work. Seeing it in a real theater, with real sound, was incredible. It's really been weird for me to step back and look at my work on this after three years.
I know it wasn’t what you planned, but I do know this has been a really, really long journey for you guys.
Don May, Jr.: Yeah, it took a lot longer than we expected. I could talk to you for hours about the things that happened on the way to getting it done. We had amazing problems getting this completed, so I've gotten a lot more gray since starting this project [laughs]. But in my 25 to 26 years of being in this business, Suspiria was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done.
I remember when you guys were at Flashback a few years ago, and you were talking about it then. You showed some of the side by side comparisons, and mentioned how there were fingerprints on some of the materials, which just blew my mind.
Don May, Jr.: My suspicion is that was accessed in 2007 when Miramax had the movie for a short amount of time, they had done a restoration in 2007. Then they played it at the Cannes Film Festival, and all that stuff, and I think that’s when somebody then stuck their fingerprints all over this thing. Because I can't imagine the fingerprints being on this thing for 40 years.
It was just crazy that anyone would touch a film negative with their bare hands, too. I wouldn't even think it was possible that someone in a vault would do such a thing, but evidently, I'm wrong. There were fingerprints all over it. That was part of the delay. Other delays came from the fact that there was so much dirt, and scratches, and tape, and tears, and things in the film that we had a lot of work to do.
But once we saw the work from this place called Fixafilm in Warsaw, Poland, of all places, that’s who we worked with. It was this guy Wojtek [Janio] who was there, and I mean, you saw his work. The end result is fantastic. That being said, it took him about 10 months to go through the film frame by frame and send things to me, and then I would send notes back. That was just one step of the process, and that was 10 months.
Then, getting the director of photography [Luciano Tovoli] in Italy to get involved, it delayed the project even more. But I felt that it was important to have Luciano involved. Who would know the movie better than the guy who was shooting it? He really brought a lot to it with his notes and his suggestions, and his very specific memories of how things should be. And I'm glad he did, even though it was another four to five months that it took working with him.
So, it's a long process, but Suspiria is one of the most important films in the genre, and I wasn't gonna half-ass this one. I was gonna do what it took to get it done the correct way.
Did you always know that you guys were going to do a theatrical run of this version of Suspiria first?
Don May, Jr.: No. What happened was, we were doing this in 4K. And Fox, there were some people that I knew over in the vault over there, and they were like, "Well, we own theatrical rights for Suspiria. Can we do this for you?" See, it's not Synapse that's doing the theatrical release. It's really Fox.
They came to us, and they said, "Hey, let us add this to our rental library for theatrical screenings." Fox also gave us trailers and TV spots and some things to use on the discs, too. It was also great publicity for us. Everything is being controlled through Fox for the theatrical, and it's just been a great amount of publicity for us.
Just to be able to see Suspiria on a big screen, that is such a rare gift, and it's so great that they did that.
Don May, Jr.: It's like, "Wow, people are really seeing this thing," and I've had some directors of the genre email me and tell me how much they appreciated it and loved it. I have a weird bucket list of titles that I always wanted to do, and Suspiria was on that list. It was always up there, and I never had the chance until now.
I feel it's my best work, so hopefully the public thinks so, too, and based on the reviews and the emails that I've been receiving, a lot of people really love it. So that's what's important to me, getting a real 4K restoration of a film like this out. Maybe the success of this will lead other companies to do the same for some of the other titles that are out there that need it. There are really a lot of films that could use this sort of treatment.
I totally agree. Did you get to talk to Dario at all after he saw it at Beyond Fest?
Don May, Jr.: No, but I got an email from those guys who told me that when he saw it, he said that he thought it looked wonderful. I don't know how much he saw of it, but I was very happy to hear that. Also, the director of photography who signed off on it, he finally saw the entire thing with the sound mix and everything, and he sent me an email a couple weeks ago, saying, "Oh, my goodness, this is beautiful. Thank you so much for letting me be a part of it." To me, that's what matters the most: getting the people that make these movies to give me their blessings, so that I know I did it right. That's the best thing in the world for someone like myself, who does these sorts of things.
As you mentioned, this was a three-year process, and I know you guys had so much that you had to contend with. Was there ever a point where you guys were like, "Did we get in over our heads?"
Don May, Jr.: Oh yeah, within a couple of weeks! There was always something, but that happens with every title that you do. You could have Star Wars, and it's, "Oh, my God, we got Star Wars." Then, two weeks later, you're going, "Oh, no, we got Star Wars. Now we gotta do this. Now we gotta do that..."
But this was, by far, the most stressful, expensive and nerve-wracking project that I've ever had my name attached to, for sure. It was this giant project where you get one step forward, and then there'd be two steps backward. You go, "Hey, we got a scan of the original negative! This is awesome!" Then they ship us the material from Italy, and two of the hard drives didn't work. So it's like, "Wait a second. We just did this scan that cost a fortune, and 20 minutes of the movie is missing and corrupted.” And then Technicolor Rome, who had the material, who did the scan, had closed permanently.
There were a lot of hurdles. Trying to find the original audio, the four-channel audio, was also a hurdle, because the licensor didn't even have access to that stuff. So there are always these moments where you get all excited, and then life kicks you right in the nuts and brings you back down to Earth. Every day it was something, and working in 4K, which is ridiculously expensive, was very, very, very stressful. 4K is beautiful, and I love watching things that are remastered in 4K, but I know why a lot of the little guys like us don't do it so much.
It's a very time-consuming thing, and since Synapse is only two guys in an office, it was very trying to get all that done. But we hope that the fans enjoy what we've done, and it seems that at least, in the theatrical setting, they have. So, hopefully, the Blu-ray will make everyone happy, too.